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50 Years After Husband’s Death, Myrlie Evers’ Anger Rekindled by Persistent Racism

Myrlie Evers is in the midst of a whirlwind of events commemorating the 50 anniversary of the assassination of her husband, Medgar Evers, and the famed civil rights widow said she has been surprised by the jumble of emotions she has been experiencing.

“It’s a reliving of what happened, and I’ve been surprised that anger has surfaced within me again that I thought would never raise its head again,” Ever said in an interview with Susan Page of USA Today. “But I think it’s reliving all those memories, wishing that things were even better than they are today and asking the question, ‘What can we do?'”

Evers, along with her children and grandchildren, had a meeting with President Obama at the White House yesterday. Obama said Medgar Evers was a warrior for justice and that the tragedy of his death turned into a rallying cry for a movement. They were joined at the meeting by Attorney General Eric Holder and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Evers, 80, whose husband was a field organizer for the NAACP when he was gunned down in Mississippi 50 years ago,  also served as a chairwoman of the NAACP. She  is also an author who has written several books on civil rights and her husband’s legacy. In January, she delivered the invocation at Obama’s second inauguration.

She will be joined today by former President Bill Clinton and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus, now secretary of the Navy, in a memorial service at the Medgar Evers’ gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. There will be additional activities in Jackson, Miss., over the next week, leading up to the June 12 anniversary of his murder.

Evers said the anger she is currently feeling isn’t directed at his killer, Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council who was finally convicted of the 1963 shooting in 1994 and died in prison in 2001.

“I have dealt with that,” she said.

She said her anger is directed at “those things within the system, not that it embraces, but that it allows prejudice and racism to persist.”

Evers said a few weeks ago she saw for the first time the high-powered, .30-06 Enfield rifle that her husband’s assassin had used, now on exhibit at the Mississippi Department of Archives.

“I walked in there and there was that rifle, encased in the plexiglass, and I stopped cold,” she recalled. “All kinds of emotion ran through me. One was hate. That was the weapon that took my husband from me and my children’s father from them. …

“Then I focused on the trigger. It was evil, in my eye, at that moment. Something made my eye follow the rifle to the end, where the fire came out that took Medgar’s life. And I could see his body sprawled there with this massive hole in his back, and I felt the heat in my chest that represented the strong emotions that I had. But something happened and it changed my vision of that rifle.

“It took his life and that fire that came out of the barrel represented freedom — freedom for Medgar in that he did not have to struggle anymore. He did what he had to do, and his death moved this country forward.”

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